Rabbi Barry Lerer on his England support and International Holocaust Memorial Day
Rabbi Barry Lerer is the Senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue, the oldest of the 62 United Synagogue congregations, which has been functioning on Great Portland Street in London since 1870. He is also a passionate football fan and England supporter, having been to over 50 games since 1996.
Ahead of International Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday 27 January, he talks about his support of England and the importance of remembering the past and learning for the future…
I was actually born in the USA, but moved to England when I was eight years old. I fell in love with football as soon as I moved here really.
I can go back to the World Cups in 1982 and 1986 for when I first started supporting England. In ’82, I was about nine or ten, but for the 1986 World Cup I can really remember it, particularly because the games were on quite late as it was in Mexico.
I still remember my mother saying I couldn’t stay up late to watch the England v Poland group game, where we had to score three goals to get through and Gary Lineker scored a hat-trick.
My older brother was allowed to stay up, but I had a small TV in my room and I remember watching it on there. As each goal was scored, I would run half-way down the stairs and my brother would run up half-way up and we’d hug each other, then my mother would come out and say ‘what’s going on here? Get back into bed!’
By the time Italia ’90 came around, I was completely obsessed and by 1996, I’d been to my first England game which was just before EURO 96, a match against Croatia at Wembley.
By then, I had become a youth Rabbi at a synagogue and I said to the youth members there, why don’t we go to Wembley to watch an England game?
THE FA MARKS IHMD
Everyone thought it was a great idea so we went and for the next five years we went to every single England home game we could, apart from those on a Friday night or Saturday, which we couldn’t go to because of the Sabbath which is from sundown on the Friday until Saturday evening so a period of just over 24 hours.
We went to every qualifier for the 1998 World Cup, but when the qualifiers for EURO 2000 came around, they were all on a Saturday unfortunately so we couldn’t go to those matches.
England eventually had to qualify through the play-offs to reach EURO 2000, over two legs against Scotland and at the time, that was going to be the last game at Wembley before they knocked it down. The game at Wembley was midweek, but it was only four tickets per person that were available.
I remember writing a letter to the FA to say how we’d been devoted fans and been to every qualifier for the 98 World Cup and every friendly that we could since then. But as we’d been unable to make the Saturday games, could we get 55 tickets for the England v Scotland game at Wembley.
Thankfully, the FA came back and said they understood so we got the tickets and we took a bus full of kids to the game.
I got married in 1998, and as my own kids got older and the new Wembley was opened, I started taking them to the England games there. We’ve been to more than 25 games together over the last 13 years. I managed to go to the semi-final of EURO 2020 with one of my sons and then I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the EURO Final for myself, so I’m a very proud England fan.
I’ve now been to over 50 games in total, my oldest son is 23 now and he can recall each game and who scored in them, it’s been passed down through the blood to my four boys and my daughter and they’re all obsessed with football.
International Holocaust Memorial Day falls on 27 January each year and it was introduced around 25 years ago in the UK. The Jewish community saw this as a very welcome sign, as we also observe our own memorial day for the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah, around April or May time each year. Having an international Holocaust Memorial Day, helps to bring it to a wider audience.
The idea of teaching children and the next generation about the lessons of the Holocaust is critically important. There are less and less Holocaust survivors, and going forward ten or twenty years, there will probably be just a handful still alive, and who will be there to give first-hand witness testimony then?
Having a day recognised by the Government to focus on teaching about atrocities such as the Jewish Holocaust, Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda and Cambodia will help people to recognise that these terrible atrocities did tragically happen, and we must take the lessons from history and make sure they don’t happen again.
This year it will be difficult, with the backdrop of what is going on in Israel and Gaza. But this day is an opportunity to teach about what truly is genocide and mass extermination of a people, and that lessons should be learned from it.
We must ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust and genocides are learned, so that it cannot happen again and we can move forward to a brighter and more peaceful future for all of humanity.